Joy's Book Blog
Joy's Book Blog
First of all, I liked this book. I really did. It taught me about a part of the world that I wasn’t familiar with previously. As a historical fiction novel, it takes place on the real Korean Island of Jeju. The story is told through the eyes of Young-sook, a girl destined to follow in her mother’s footsteps and join Jeju’s collective of all-female divers. Progressing from her time as a child learning how to deep-dive from her mother, through Young-sook’s marriage, children, and old age, the book focuses on the events of her life and friendship with another diver, Mi-ja. Historical facts are interspersed throughout the book, such as the invasion of Jeju from Japan, the affect WWII had on the island, the coming of Americans in the aftermath of that war, and the tragic events of the April 3, 1948, massacre, a true event that many historians view as the authentic beginning of the Korean War (according to Wikipedia). I didn’t know any of this history before I read the book, and so to me, any historical fiction that can teach me something new automatically qualifies as a “good book.” Plus, I took the extra step to go online and research even more about what the book was talking about, so I feel like I learned even more that way.
Second, I liked the unique perspective of the island. Run by women, author Lisa See had some deep insights into what it means to be a woman, the value of female friendships, and the nuances of motherhood. She also interspersed humor into the story with the way the women talked about the men, like when one woman noted “No man was built to shoulder the full weight of feeding and caring for his family. That was why he had a wife and daughters.” Living in a purely matriarchal society like that was such a foreign concept to me that I loved reading about it!
On the other hand, this book unfairly suffers the fate of many other “good” books told by bestselling authors. Namely, once an author has written a book that many consider near-perfect, very few other books by that author can compare. Lisa See is one of my favorite authors, and to me, her near-perfect book is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Both books can be easily compared to each other; they both take place in an Asian country (Korea for The Island; China for Snow Flower), both are written in first-person from the perspective of a strong female protagonist, both are set during times of political unrest, and most importantly, both focus on the lifelong bond of friendship between two women that is fraught with tension and misunderstandings. While I was reading The Island of Sea Women, all of the plot similarities just screamed for me to compare it to Snow Flower, and sadly, it came up lacking.
I think if this book had been written by someone else or wasn’t so closely tied to Snow Flower in terms of plot, I would have liked it better. However, I would still recommend reading this book to others, but I would recommend Snow Flower first.
BTW, while I continue to rate Snow Flower and the Secret Fan as the best book Lisa See has written, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane comes in a close second. Her China Dolls and Shanghai Girls are also excellent.